A woman has been jailed for two years and 10 months over more than £5 million worth of money-laundering offences after she was stopped at Heathrow Airport with suitcases full of cash.
Tara Hanlon, 30, was held as she tried to board a flight to Dubai in October of last year with more than £1.9 million in sterling notes.
The find, vacuum packed in five suitcases and covered in ground coffee to hide the smell from sniffer dogs, was described at the time as the largest individual cash seizure at the border that year.
She pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to remove criminal property from England and Wales between July 13 and October 4 last year, which has been left to lie on file.
But she admitted three counts of removing criminal property, relating to cash amounts of £1.4 million on July 14, £1.1 million on August 10 and £1 million on August 31 last year.
The defendant also pleaded guilty to attempting to remove £1.9 million in criminal cash from the country on the day she was arrested.
Recruitment consultant Hanlon, of Pelham Court, Leeds, appeared at Isleworth Crown Court on Monday, where she was jailed for 34 months.
Prosecutor Nathan Rasiah said the charges related to three trips taken to the United Arab Emirates city last summer and one failed attempt in October.
The court heard that on October 3 2020, the defendant was stopped at the airport by a customs official when travelling with a friend to Dubai.
When asked about the purpose of the visit and her luggage, the defendant said she was going on a “girls’ trip” and that she had checked in the five suitcases because she “wasn’t sure what to wear” whilst there.
The defendant denied that she was travelling with cash on her person or in her luggage, but was subsequently taken into custody and arrested for money laundering after officials discovered the cash in the suitcases.
In a prepared statement to investigators, Hanlon said that it was the first trip she had taken, that she was not being paid and believed it to be legal as the money would be declared in Dubai.
She claimed she had been asked to fly out to provide a hair service for a contact, who later turned out to be her recruiter, in return for free flights and accommodation, and that she had been handed the bags by a driver in London.
However, inquiries with the airline and a search of the defendant’s phone by authorities revealed that she had made three previous visits in July and August as a courier, and had been paid around £3,000 for each trip.
After liaising with authorities in Dubai, the National Crime Agency (NCA) discovered Hanlon had declared she was carrying more than a million pounds in cash upon arrival on each occasion, totalling £3.5 million.
Mr Rasiah told the court that messages found on the defendant’s phone to the woman who recruited her revealed Hanlon had a deeper role in the operation, as the two had discussed involving other couriers.
The defendant had also celebrated the payment of “three big ones” following the first trip, writing in a message to the woman: “With this wage and the next my debts go bye. Time for TT to live her best life.”
Stephen Grattage, defending, claimed that Hanlon was vulnerable at the time of the offences following the sudden death of her mother in March and having been furloughed from her job shortly afterwards.
He said that as the money was being declared in Dubai and the recruiter had mentioned an accountant being involved in the payments, Hanlon believed the business could be legitimate.
However, during sentencing, Judge Karen Holt told her: “Although you were vulnerable at the time, I don’t find that you have been exploited and find that you knew what you were doing.”
Ian Truby, NCA senior investigating officer, said following the hearing: “Tara Hanlon thought that she was going to be living a jet-set lifestyle, instead she is now serving a prison sentence.
“I hope her story is a cautionary one for others who would consider doing the same. Stopping the flow of illicit cash is a priority for the NCA and our partners.”
Hanlon’s arrest sparked an NCA probe targeting a number of other cash couriers suspected of being linked to the same money laundering network.
Around a month after Hanlon was caught, Czech national Zdenek Kamaryt, 38, was held as he tried to board a flight from Heathrow to Dubai with £1.3 million in cash in his bags.
He was jailed for two years in March after pleading guilty to money laundering offences, according to the NCA.
Eight other people, arrested in a series of raids in May of this year at locations in London, Surrey, West Yorkshire, and Greater Manchester, were released under investigation while inquiries continue.